What's in a Word?

Pondering word play and power in The Daily Sentinel

Page 5 of 126

The highway … auf Deutsch

By Debra Dobbins
Monday, January 27, 2014

The German word Autobahn, which means highway, crops up in today's crossword puzzle answers. It illustrates that other languages besides English create portmanteau words.

Autobahn is made up of two words: auto, meaning motorcar or automobile, and bahn, a path or road.

Autobahn is capitalized even within a sentence, because Germans capitalize all nouns, not just proper nouns.

Two Autobahns crossing near Frankfurt, Germany
Photo by Vladislav Bezrukov courtesy of Wikipedia
Originally posted on Flickr





Seizing a teachable moment

By Debra Dobbins
Wednesday, January 22, 2014

“Motivation” is a form of “motive,” which means “some inner drive, impulse, intention, etc. that causes a person to do something or act in a certain way,” according to Webster’s. The word comes from the Latin movere, “to move.”

My motivation for selecting this cartoon was to seize a teachable moment: The object in the sentence on the board is “ball.”

More precisely, it is called a direct object. It directly receives the action of —yes — an action verb. In this case, the action verb is “chased.”


In the mood …

By Debra Dobbins
Friday, January 17, 2014

OK. I’ll fess up. Early this morning I didn’t get the joke in this cartoon. I’d like to blame my cluelessness on a lack of coffee, but, no, there was more to it: I clearly needed to review the subjunctive mood in English. So, I did — learning more than most people probably wish to know, but that predicament has not deterred me from explaining arcane matters in the past.

For starters, “mood” in its grammatical sense means the quality of a verb that expresses a writer’s attitude toward a subject. The English language has both major and minor moods. Being in a charitable (ahem) mood, I will concede that it is enough torture for one day to explain only the major ones: indicative, imperative and subjunctive.

When a writer makes factual statements or poses questions, the writer is using the indicative mood. Much of the writing in The Daily Sentinel is in the indicative mood, since news articles relay many facts.

In the imperative mood, a command is given, as in “Give me the wine and nobody will get hurt.”

The subjunctive mood is used to “express supposition, desire, hypothesis, possibility, etc., rather than to state an actual fact,” according to Webster’s. My favorite example of the subjunctive mood comes from the beloved play, “Fiddler on the Roof,” when Tevye, the long-suffering father of five daughters, sings the song, “If I Were a Rich Man,” not “If I Was a Rich Man.’

While I was familiar with that use of the subjunctive mood, I must have never learned that the subjunctive mood often crops up in subordinate clauses and, in particular, subordinate clauses starting with the word “that.” (As another charitable act, I’ll save the explanation of subordinate clauses for another day.)

In the cartoon, “that” is missing in the subordinate clauses in both sentences and therein lies the joke. With apologies to Tom Thaves, here’s a revised version:



A two-headed deity

By Debra Dobbins
Thursday, January 16, 2014

We can thank a god for January.

According to the Online Eytmology Dictionary, the word came into English in the late 13th century and was spelled “Ieneur, from Old North French Genever.” (In modern French, the name is close to English — janvier. Unlike its English counterpart, it‘s not capitalized unless it begins a sentence.)

The dictionary also notes that the word eventually came into French “from Latin Ianuarius (mensis) ‘(the month) of Janus.’” Janus was a Roman god with two faces, one looking backward and one looking forward. He was associated with time because he could look into the past and into the future.

Head of Janus, Vatican Museum in Rome
Photo by Loudon dodd courtesy of Wikipedi


A ‘whimsy’ – Colorado style

By Debra Dobbins
Friday, January 10, 2014

“Whimsies” is the plural form of “whimsy,” which Webster’s defines as:
“ 1. an odd fancy; idle notion; whim
  2. curious, quaint, or fanciful humor [poems full of whimsy]
  3. something odd or whimsical, such as an art object, piece of writing, etc.”

Early this morning I also learned that “whimsy” describes a wisp of a hat, usually made of veiling adorned with small items such as feathers. This sounded British to me, so I IMd my friend Dianne Bunt in England to inquire. In the midst of packing to move into a new home, Dianne did take time to reply. “Yes, that rings a bell,” she wrote. “Although I've never been inclined to wear a whimsy on a whimsy or any other time.” Sensible lady, she is.

En route to work, I realized I should have told her a “whimsy” in this sense is something like the fascinators so in vogue in Britain. The Duchess of Cambridge and other royals are seen in them frequently.

When colleague Penny Stine walked into the office, it was pure serendipity. Lo and behold, Penny was modeling a whimsy – Colorado style. No wispy veiling here, no feathers, no delicate beads … rather some sturdy orange and blue wool obtained from local store Tangles that Penny herself had knitted into a warm tribute to the Broncos. I told Penny it made her look like a college girl.

Nope. No lace, veiling, feathers or frills. On a cold January day, though, Penny’s choice of headgear does have a western Colorado whimsy.

The Duchess of Cambridge wearing a fascinator
Photo courtesy of Wikipedia

Penny Stine, knitter extraordinaire


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